Elissa Beth Stebbins as Mistress Ford and Jennifer Le Blanc as Mistress Page in Merry Wives of Windsor. Costumes by Shannon DuPont.

By Rita Koselka

Livermore Shakespeare Festival dramatically raised the bar this year for its 10th anniversary program. The 2012 program features the Shakespearean masterpieces of Hamlet and the Merry Wives of Windsor with the enchanting Queen Anne Victorian at Concannon Winery again serving as the set backdrop.

While the organization has been putting on high quality performances for all its ten years, it has often done so with a very limited use of union professional actors, members of the Actors Equity Association. Actors typically work as freelancers, a hard way to make a living. Qualifying as an AEA actor is an important step in actors’ careers, in part because the union provides healthcare as long as the actor works a specified number of weeks for theaters that hires them as union employees. This year, Livermore Shakespeare Festival Producing Artistic Director, Lisa Tromovitch, and her guest director for the Merry Wives of Windsor, Virginia Reed, held auditions as usual but found that a good number of the actors they wanted to cast were Equity members, requiring a significant bump up in the production cost because of health care and Equity salaries. But both directors were convinced the added expense was worthwhile to realize their visions for this summer’s program. The Livermore Shakes Board of Directors, staff and company volunteers called on the company’s loyal donors to find out what they thought about increasing the number of professional actors the festival hired. Everyone agreed that it was a great investment in the quality of the performances. Donors contributed $7500 in additional money to support the additional contracts.

Our dream is to become a destination Shakespeare Festival

Donor and company dramaturge, Peggy Riley, makes it very clear. “Our dream is to become a destination Shakespeare Festival,” she says, very much like Ashland or Santa Cruz. “Livermore has lots to offer,” she adds, “wineries, golf, hiking, boating, swimming, and (thankfully after years without) some nice restaurants and a walkable, engaging downtown. So Livermore and the Shakespeare Festival can offer a wide range of activities in addition to the plays. In order for all this to happen, our company has to grow and become better known. And – in order for THIS to happen, we have to offer the highest-quality productions possible. That means professionals, and that means money.” So Riley and her husband were happy to make a contribution.

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“It is not the easiest task to try and make a living on what most artists are paid in this country,” says Jackson Davis, Falstaff as theatergoers will soon know him. “Fewer than one in five professional stage actors are fortunate enough to get enough work and the kind of work that affords them access to health care. In these lean times, it is all the more impressive that those civic-minded supporters of the arts in the Livermore region answered Lisa’s call to enable the Livermore Shakespeare Festival to be one of the few theater companies in the Bay Area that contribute that extra measure of financial security to professional actors.”

The Livermore Shakespeare Festival has momentum, and this move will increase it. At press time, ticket sales were ahead of last year. “It is very encouraging for us in the Bay Area acting community,” says Patrick Jones, who is playing the title role in Hamlet. “What I like the most about working for Livermore Shakes is their hungry, ambitious, attitude. In comparison to other more established summer Shakespeare festivals, they are an adolescent, but that’s a great place to be– no resting, no sitting back, lots of optimism, lots of forward thinking. It’s a mountain of potential.”

San Francisco Bay Area Film and Theater2012 Livermore Shakespeare Festival

Production: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

Producer: Shakespeare’s Associates dba Livermore Shakespeare Festival

Directed by: Hamlet: Lisa A. Tromovitch, Merry Wives Of WIndsor: Virginia Reed

Performances: July 12th through August 12th

Preview of Hamlet on July 12, Hamlet Opening Night Performance on July 13th. Hamlet performances are 7/12, 7/13, 7/14, 7/22, 7/27, 7/28, 7/29, 8/10, and 8/11 with a Family Night performance on 7/22.  Preview of Merry Wives of Windsor on July 19th, Merry Wives of Windsor Opening Night Benefit; Dinner, Auction and Performance on July 20th. Merry Wives of Windsor performances are 7/19, 7/20, 7/21, 8/3, 8/4, 8/5 and 8/12 with a Family Night performance on 7/19.

Time: Thursday, Friday and Saturday Performances start at 7:30PM. Sunday performances are at 7PM. Merry Wives of Windsor Opening Night Performance on July 20th at 8PM.

Location: Concannon Vineyard, 4590 Tesla Road

Parking:  Free Parking Available at Concannon Vineyard

Ticket Prices: $39 – $25, Opening Night Benefit with dinner on July 20th $90

Livermore Shakes Family Night(Merry Wives) on July 19th (Hamlet ) on July 22nd Kid Tickets $5

Running Time:   Show running times are approximately 2 ½ hours including one 15 minute intermission

Monica Turner
Contributor to Stark Insider for tech, the arts and All Things West Coast for over 10 years.